Strive to be the best at your best skill
The best female hockey players in the world have got all the basic skills down pat: They can all skate, pass, shoot, stick handle and check effectively.
For many young players, being able to execute basic skills at the right time, while under pressure and while moving at high speeds is very challenging, but when you put the best players from across the country together to compete for a spot on the national team, you can see that they’ve all got the ability.
So if they can all do the basic things well, what separates the best in this group from the rest?
I’m going to share two examples from a past national team tryout camp that really jumped out at me as critical areas players must develop to get to (and excel at) the next level.
No. 1 – In one of the games I watched, one player scored two beautiful goals in regulation and then a fantastic one in the shootout. She is known as a great goal scorer and always comes through in the clutch.
Want to know how her first two goals went in?
She kept her feet moving, got the goalie moving laterally and shot the puck along the ice through the five hole quickly and accurately. She made it happen so quickly that it looked effortless.
It’s so important to keep your feet moving when you are shooting.
All coaches should be hammering this point home with their players. When you keep your feet moving, your actions are unpredictable, which makes the goalies’ job much harder. If you can make a move that makes the goalie adjust right before you shoot, even better. And when you keep skating as you shoot, getting to loose pucks and rebounds will be easy.
The BEST part about these two goals was that they were scored on low shots.
I know, you think that going “bar down” with your shots looks cool. And that knocking off the goalies water bottle with your shot is the best thing ever.
BUT most high shots players take end up ringing off the glass or in the goalie’s chest. The hardest shots to stop are the low ones, especially the ones that are 5-10 inches off the ice and inside the posts.
And, last but not least, these goals were scored from the slot.
This player didn’t wait until she was three feet from the goalie before she took her shot. She let it go from above the hash marks and the goalie never had time to adjust. Don’t wait until you are in the goalie’s lap to take the shot.
Shoot early, shoot often, keep your feet moving and keep your shots low.
No. 2 – My favorite play of the entire camp wasn’t a goal or assist.
It happened when one of the defensemen joined the rush, delayed as she crossed the blue line and then made a bank pass off the back boards to her winger driving the far post on the other side of the net. It was so well-timed and so accurate that the winger had a one-time shot from in tight that the goalie had to make a great save on.
Did it change the game or directly cause a goal? Nope. But I can tell you that every scout in the rink noticed that play.
She didn’t try to force the puck through the middle of the ice or take a long shot with no traffic in front. She could have just done a simple dump or waited for one of her wingers to post up on the wall to support her.
Instead she made a play that is quite rare for a very young player, especially when you add in the fact that she is at a national team tryout. I’ve had the pleasure of watching this defenseman play for years and her ability to make the right play at the right time all over the ice is what makes her stand out, as well as the fact that she can think outside of the box and execute complicated plays while under pressure and make them look effortless.
These two players not only executed these skills extraordinarily well in this particular game, they do them consistently. It is one of the things that makes them stand out on the national and world stage.
This is an important concept to grasp. You have to be strong at all the basic skills to get to the next level. You have to be able to showcase your biggest strengths when it counts. BUT you also need to be “the best” at something.
I’m not saying you need to be the best play maker in the world to get noticed. But just being an average play maker won’t cut it if that’s your biggest strength.
You should aim to be the best on your team, the best in your league, the best in your state, and even the best in the country at your strongest skill.
Because being “good enough” isn’t good enough to get you to the top. It’s your biggest strengths that are going to stand out to coaches and scouts.
The best players in the world didn’t just get there by chance. They all have a few weaknesses they need to work on, but I can guarantee you that they got to that level because of the strength of their strengths.
Work Hard. Dream BIG.
Your friend and coach,
PS: Feel free to pass this message along to any friends, teammates or coaches that you think might benefit from the information.
Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS, is the founder and director of Total Female Hockey.